In this age of constant disruption, everyone from governments, to large corporations, smaller businesses, and right down to the individual contributor is shaking off the dust of complacency and looking for ways to innovate – to find a newer, bolder, more effective version of the status quo. No matter what shift in culture or vision we are trying to accomplish, it must start at the top; it starts with leadership. We know we must get creative when it comes to leading, but how do we get there?

Depending on who you ask, anywhere between 4 and 12 styles of leadership have been identified. Servant Leadership is not on that list. Some may argue that it’s a new concept emerging from this very need, and wouldn’t it surprise them to find out that Lao Tzu, Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa are among the many exceptional individuals who have resorted to this unique way to lead. Famous brands such as Starbucks, Nordstrom’s, the Container Store, Marriott International and Balfour Beatty have long embraced this ideology. The term “servant leadership” was originally coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader”, however, it’s evident from the examples above that this concept was well-known and employed for at least 2 millennia.

There are some unique aspects of Servant Leadership, but perhaps the most interesting of them is courage. The courage to put others ahead of self, to accept criticism, and to face sacrifice comes from a place of deep care. For many in leadership positions serving first and leading second means stepping out into the wilderness. It is not just another leadership style to test, it’s a paradigm shift. One must embrace it entirely and understand it’s all about the privilege to give, not the power to receive.

In addition to courage, there are 10 other characteristics of servant leadership:

  1. Active Listening – “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”- Dr. Stephen Covey
  2. Empathy – feeling along with someone, not for someone.
  3. Healing – holistic healing through fostering meaningful relationships, coaching and mentorship.
  4. Awareness – mindfulness of self and others, being present in the moment. Understanding strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for growth, and threats.
  5. Persuasion – along with courage, this is another unique aspect of servant leadership. It means relying extensively on negotiation, cooperation and collaboration, instead of wielding authority and delegation.
  6. Conceptualization – thinking strategically beyond the daily tasks, visualizing the big picture.
  7. Foresight – understanding and applying lessons from the past to the complexities of the present and anticipating future outcomes.
  8. Stewardship – accountability for self and the team; and the commitment to serving others’ needs first.
  9. Commitment to the Growth of People – devotion to the personal and professional development of each individual, support for their passions beyond their professional commitment and ensuring their happiness, health and prosperity.
  10. Building the Community – identifying and supporting synergies between the different stakeholders.

This leadership style can be implemented not only by people who already lead, but also by those who aspire to. The essence of Servant Leadership and at its core is the shared vision. This method offers leaders the necessary tools and mindset to understand who they can be as leaders as well as manifest a higher aptitude for supporting passion and purpose among those they lead. When we become the example of service to others, we inspire a change in perspective that resonates in a meaningful way to all contributors with shared vision.

About the Author

Sonnya Kourteva is a GAAP Reporting Specialist at Prudential’s PGIM. She is also the co-chair and programming director for the company’s Women Business Resource Group (WINGS), as well as an influencer on several internal newsletters and the National Diversity Council newsletter. Sonnya is inspired and passionate about initiatives, ideas and programs that bring people closer to each other. She strongly believes that building meaningful connections enables us to become our best selves.
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